James Komo Kariuki, 68, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. In 2017, after going through various treatment he was declared cancer free.

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My Story: I am a male breast cancer survivor

What you need to know:


"I started having swelling on my right breast in the year 2010. The next year, the swelling spread and became hard. It got itchy and sometimes painful.

One evening, as I was coming home from my business, my wife told me that there were some missionaries who were treating people for free. We were living in Malindi.

I decided to accompany her to the hospital. The scans revealed nothing unusual but surgery was done to remove the swelling. A sample was taken for further tests. After six days, the results revealed I had breast cancer. It was in the second stage. I was so shocked for I knew cancer meant a death sentence.

I knew the best facilities for treatment were in Nairobi and so I traveled to Guru Nanak Hospital to see a specialist.

"You need to accept that you have breast cancer. This will accelerate your healing. Your lymph nodes are swollen. They need to be removed as soon as possible for the cancer cells not to spread," the doctor told me.

Going for surgery

The surgery was successfully done after six weeks. Shortly after, I traveled to Nairobi to start the cancer treatment at the Kenyatta National Hospital. I found a very long queue day in, day out and my hope of getting the treatment started fading away. One patient advised me not to go home.

"Queue, then sleep here and wait the following morning," a patient advised. This is what I did and I finally saw the doctor.

At KNH the doctor said I needed to get six injections which would cost Sh32,000 each. I also checked Aga Khan Hospital Nairobi and realised the cost for the injections was the same minus the queue. I chose Aga Khan.

In my naivety, I thought the injections were like any other; a simple injection on your hand, thighs, or the gluteal region. I remember telling the nurses at the reception that I had cancer and I had come for an injection. It was a simple process, or so I thought.

Chemotherapy

At Aga Khan, the bill for treatment would cost more than Sh2million. We fundraised and raised 200,000. My doctor gave me some forms to fill that would help in getting the bill relieved. The deficit was miraculously catered for by the hospital.

I then went through my first chemotherapy treatment. After 21days, I was to go back for the second chemotherapy.

The first four days after the injections were traumatizing. I was advised to eat baby-like foods. I had nausea which made me eat very little food. The latrine was outside and I had to use a bucket at the foot of the bed. It robbed me of my dignity.

Then my hair started falling off. I became bald. I turned to coal black. When I went back for my third injection, my immunity failed. I had to wear a mask to protect myself. People looked at me weirdly and even opted to alight from a matatu when I got in. I would hide and be the last person to board the matatu so as not to scare away the passengers.

I am a married man with two wives, four children, and two grandchildren.

Being shunned

After the fourth chemo, I went to visit my family in Malindi. It was so painful to see my children fail to recognise me. They asked their mother who I was. It crushed me. My neighbours and friends speculated I had AIDS. I was thin, black, and bald with scaly skin.

I returned to Nairobi to finish chemotherapy and start radiotherapy. Radiotherapy was a scary procedure. I needed 26 sessions. The hospital catered for its cost.

After radiotherapy, I moved to the clinic stage. I would spend Sh80,000 for running tests in every clinic. The cancer treatment took away a lot of my investments.

In August 2017 I was declared cancer-free. I now celebrate life every day. I would encourage my fellow men to go for checks if they notice an unusual change in their bodies.

Coming out and joining support groups helped me. I was the only man in the midst of many women who had breast cancer. The sharing and visiting those that needed our support accelerated my healing. I would show my scar to serve as an encouragement to those in a similar situation.

Reduce pressure

My doctor also advised me not to hide what was ailing me. 'Just say cancer,' she told me. Speaking about it reduced my pressure.

I have found ways of making myself happy. I love watching football and I am also an artist who enjoys painting. I sell men's shoes to keep my life and that of my family going.

Live life. Don't overindulge but don't be mean to yourself. Avoid stress, eat healthily, and seek help when you need it. Life is precious."

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